The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, recently spoke about Russian Information Warfare.
What the Russians are trying to do in the gray zone is undermine the credibility of U.S. alliances and partnerships, the general said. “So what’s critical for us to do is overcome in the information space, overcome in cyber capabilities, and then our military posture, the erosion of that relationship that we have with our allies,” Dunford said.
The gray zone refers to the state in which we currently find ourselves with regard to Russia. We are not in a state of war, but we are engaging Russia in a low-level clash called information warfare. What Russia is doing is using technology to undermine democracy, chip away at the foundation of our faith in our governments, erode our union and divide us, and sow chaos and disorder within our nations, our societies, and our brotherhoods of nations.
Russia has overwhelmed conventional news organizations with a “firehose of falsehoods” to the point where we no longer have faith in journalists or their publications. Through a series of well-funded propaganda organizations, they use a surfeit of trolls, proxy sites, fake news platforms, and useful idiots to amplify their message to overwhelming levels.
Russia has denied any involvement in activities for which they are clearly at fault. Russia denies any responsibility for shooting down MH17 on 17 July 2014, inventing over ten alternate theories. Russia denies involvement in the Skripal assassination attempt on 4 March 2018, as well as the Alexander Litvinenko polonium-assassination on 23 November 2006. Russia initially denied Russian soldiers had invaded Crimea. Russia denied involvement in the invasion of Donbas, Ukraine. Any attempt by Western leaders and diplomats to hold Russia accountable are met with “prove it”. When investigations are complete and studied, Russia undermines the credibility of the investigations.
Russian trolls have infiltrated Western social media to the point where Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumbler, and others had hundreds, perhaps thousands of fake accounts, displayed Russian ads, advertised fake rallies, and undermined a US presidential candidate – causing the perception of real damage. The social media platforms of LinkedIn and LiveLeak are reportedly infiltrated to the point where there is a palpable pro-Russian bias. Twitter bots and AI have enabled Russian fake accounts to mindlessly echo and amplify Russian propaganda to the point where major data engines perceive false results, skewing global opinions.
Russian hacking enabled the Russians to cull highly embarrassing information from a large database of correspondence of the DNC and US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Manager, John Podesta. The purloined emails were released through Wikileaks and Russian hackers were identified as breaking into the DNC and Podesta server and account. The resulting chaos caused the DNC Chairperson to resign and caused massive turmoil, consternation, and mistrust in the US voting public.
Russian propaganda deliberately deviates from the truth and has even appeared in the US Congress. In April 2018 US Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) included language in the $1.3 trillion spending bill which was pure Russian propaganda. In 2015, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) did exactly the same thing, he inserted Russian propaganda accusing the Ukrainian Azov battalion of being composed of neo-Nazis and denied them US aid. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (R-Calif), cited Russian propaganda when questioning US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers.
Russian information warfare, combined with aggressive, covert Russian intelligence operations, has crossed the threshold into a weapon of mass destruction that dissolves the very fabric of our societies through a series of small, under the radar strikes. Individual acts of Russian information warfare appear as an annoyance, but collectively it eats away at the glue of our society. It divides us, it removes our bedrock, it is the Lingchi (Death of a Thousand Cuts) of the 21st Century.